What If / New York















I had my first taste of NYC when I was about 16 years old. Everything about it was wildly romantic and straight-up cool. The subways, the cabs, the crazies, the skyscrapers, the smell of garbage, the musicals! It was equal parts scary and sexy. I fell in love with the hustle. I was determined to move to New York for art school – I pretty much wanted my entire life to look like the opening credits to Felicity.

I bought a giant book that had details and information on art schools across the United States. It listed library sizes, majors, and tuition & fees. NYU cost something like $30,000 per year. OU (the University of Oklahoma) was in my backyard and cost about $3,000 per year. My parents generously offered to pay my way if I stayed close to home. So I did. I’m grateful that I graduated college without loans and I feel like I’m doing well for myself now. I don’t have any regrets but sometimes I can’t help but wonder … what if?

It was a little over 9 years ago that my parents made another generous offer to my brother who was forging his way in the world of sideshow performance. They knew he couldn’t make a living hammering nails in his head in Oklahoma – so they offered to pay his way in New York for a year. He moved a month before my sister gave birth to her first son. And since then he’s made a name for himself in the sideshow world. No, he doesn’t have health insurance. And yes, sometimes he’s just barely scraping by. But he gets to live what he loves. His job this week is mastering a new handcuff escape act before heading off to tour Australia for the month of September.

So last week Jeremy and I went and visited Donny at his home he shares with his girlfriend, Anna, in Brooklyn. We ate ethiopian food and sipped on honey wine. We walked across the Brooklyn bridge into Manhattan and ate cheap Chinese in Chinatown. Anna taught me Wu Tao in Strawberry Fields in Central Park. Wu Tao is a form of dance that functions like a moving meditation – it’s designed to open your meridians and is really quite amazing. In the middle of our dance a man with a bike and a few buckets, who had been watching us for a while, walked up and in an aggressive tone said “Dancers are the athletes of God. – Albert Einstein.” The credit to ol’ Einstein made the whole thing a lot less creepy. Only in New York. We ate bagels (oh boy, did we eat bagels), ice cream, pizza, and brunch. And we laughed a whole lot too. I admired the street art and bridges and got blisters on the bottoms of my feet for walking miles in flip flops – I know better, really.

So back to what if? As I was going through a young divorce a little over 5 years ago I thought “now is my time.” I figured I would finally have the opportunity to reinvent myself in Brooklyn. Maybe I’d even learn to breathe fire and become a part of my brother’s act when I wasn’t interning for a rockstar like Stefan Sagmeister for $2 an hour. But Jeremy happened and our roots in OKC started growing deeper. Today, for the most part, love exactly where I am. The slow pace of living here affords me lots of autonomy and space to not just survive – but thrive. I suppose I no longer crave the hustle of New York because I’ve made my own hustle – from right here. But even so… there’s something magical about The City. And every time we visit I can’t help but ask what if? 


• If you want to read more about my brother and his journey check out my sister’s now defunct blog Kind of A Sideshow 
• All photos were taken on my iPhone and processed using VSCO (and Photoshop). I post to Instagram (in the moment) here too!
• I’m doing a guest post on Emily Thompson’s blog about how living in Oklahoma affords me the opportunity to be a working creative. Check it out!

  1. Brittan

    I know what you’re talking about. I lived in New York for three years, then moved back to Dallas two years ago, when it all got too expensive (I was a single mom, so I couldn’t really scrape by like my friends are doing). I have those insane student loans from NYU grad school, and memories of existing on rice for way too long… and I still miss it constantly. There is magic in that city, I swear.

    Your brother seems so cool.

  2. Oh Kathleen, you speak to my heart. I, too, daydreamed of living amongst the hustle and bustle of NYC in my younger days. (Felicity! Ben! That hair!!!) I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to intern one summer during college in NYC. It was love. Deep, aching, longing love. I truly believe that summer in that city helped create who I am today…a crazy illustrator barely scraping by. But funny enough, as I grew older, the appeal of the city grew dimmer. I am so proud of the family, friends and community I have helped shape in my quieter little part of the world that I can’t imagine leaving it for…almost…anything else. =P Don’t get me wrong, I still occasionally long for spontaneous adventures in unfamiliar places but that’s why I travel. Cause there really is no place like home. Besides, I feel the infrequent NYC visits help keep it the mysterious and exciting beast it is.

  3. Cheryl

    I can relate to the what-if’s. By the way, doesn’t Ethiopian food rock? I had my first taste when I was in D.C. a few years back. Just recently found a great place in the Dallas area…

  4. I had the same dream, but not until I entered college and was traveling to NYC frequently for my job at a small boutique, buying jewelry and goods in the wholesale district. It was so glamorous then, the stench and sewers included, but now that I’m older and have a home and a little yard I can’t imagine living in such a big city with no space to call my own.

    On a side note, I saw your brother’s show at Coney Island once, per your recommendation years ago, and he is just great. Just like NYC- equal parts sexy and scary!

  5. Jessica

    I think about it all the time. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with a quiter, slower pace in OKC. It’s the big friendly. & every time I visit home in SE OK, I see those clear stars & am thankful for the open space. It’s very spiritual. OK is home.

  6. Lisette

    OH MY GOD I’m totally seeing the Pretty Things Peepshow when they’re in Melbourne. At my fave burlesque/circus/cabaret bar too (Red Bennies is AWESOME!) 😀

  7. I’ve always wanted to visit NYC and now say I would like to live there for a year just to say I did. I grew up in a small town in Texas and I still live in the Dallas area. Sometimes I long for a bigger city life but then wonder if I could handle it. For now I will just look at pictures that other bloggers post and be happy with my own little place here in Texas. It’s not so bad…except for the hot summers. 🙂

  8. Olivia

    I miss Tara’s updates on her blog!

    Also: I’m really excited for your big reveal… 🙂

  9. soleil

    Hi Kathleen! Your post today really resonated with me. I got accepted to Syracuse University into the arts program for theatre with a very partial scholarship. it was 30k a year also. my scholarship only covered 8, so it was still a lot of money to come up with. my dad pretty much made the same offer to me so I stayed local. I got accepted into two fantastic schools, one in LA and the one in NY. I, too, have those what if moments on certain occasions. Now at 32, I can see the benefits to staying local. I don’t have student loans for which I am super grateful. I may not have had the college experience I had envisioned fed on movies/books/tv, but it all worked out in the end. The what if question can be an enticing path to wander down in the mental labyrinth.
    But, I think it worked out for you too. You are living an amazing life, you get to travel, and do what you love for a living. You are a creative inspiration, lady! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • It did work out!

      I hardly ever think in terms of the past (I’m a push forward into the future kind of gal). So it’s odd to even “go there”.

  10. First: Love the photos!

    Second: The grass is always greener! I did opt for the 30K+ art school in Brooklyn, NY and I’ll be paying those babies off for a long time to come!

    There was a really interesting (although brief) article in the NY Times last week titled “Is New York Only For The Successful”. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/10/us/10iht-currents10.html?_r=0

    I came to this city as an art student paying my own way with $600 in my bank account. I’ve worked hard and am a designer for a childrenswear company, but designers don’t make all that much. My salary here could afford me a downpayment on a great house in RI, but here it has me renting an apartment with 2 roommates at age 29. But I’m not complaining, I’m just sharing the facts because I’ve been seeing a lot of bloggers mention their wish to move to NYC. Don’t get me wrong, I love this crazy city. It’s overflowing with culture, everything is at your fingertips and you can connect with people from all across the world. Opportunities are endless, but you have to be open to them and you have to work VERY hard here. There are no 8 hour (or even 9 hour days) anymore.

    I know you only mentioned moving here as a hypothetical Kathleen, but I hope you don’t mind my long ramblings on the subject! I live in a great area of Brooklyn as well, and do recommend it way over Manhattan for anyone thinking of moving here. The South Bronx and areas of Queens also offer cheaper, more spacious options, with a little more of the old New York grit.

    • Hey Melinda!

      It’s truly not a grass is greener situation (at this point). Because I’ve got a LAWN full of green grass right here – and New York appears to be a concrete jungle. At this point it really isn’t a true desire to move to Oklahoma. In fact – I encourage creatives to move to the midwest! http://andkathleen.com/2012/11/the-cost-of-living/

      If I were to move, at this point in my life, I’d choose mountains over skyscrapers. This whole post was just a reflection in how my priorities have changed … without trying to dis New York I found that this time there seemed to be too much hustle and desperation in the air. I recognize that this is merely a reflection of my own perception. That not everyone in New York is desperate – but I think I would be if I lived there.

      • You are right about it being a “concrete jungle”. 😉 When I said the “grass is greener” I was thinking more of what I’ve been telling myself. I’ve just been reconsidering the “hustle and desperation” as you say. It’s important to be seen as successful as New York, and the version of success here is so high, I don’t know if I want to reach it anymore. And to live somewhere with a lawn, with maybe a mountain view? or any view? I would love that!

        My mind is thinking of the possibilities outside of NYC, but my heart is still here, so we’ll see where the future may lead.

        • So true! I know LOTS of city folk who daydream about open fields and farms.

          And YES – I think that standard of success would be overwhelming. To me it feels like a game of Monopoly – where you’re either super rich or super broke. There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of middle ground.

          Just keep following your heart! You can’t go wrong.

  11. Kylie Meller

    Hi Kathleen, will your brother be doing shows here in Australia?

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